Saturday, 29 January 2011

Torres Clash: Should He Stay Or Should He Go?

Only hours after learning that Liverpool had rejected a bid in the region of £35 million from Chelsea for Fernando Torres, news emerged that the player has handed in a transfer request. In a turbulent season for Liverpool and its loyal supporters this is a particularly hard blow to take. Should the unthinkable now become thinkable?

Throughout the difficult season, discussions have raged over who was to blame for the poor run of form. Was it Roy Hodgson or just a legacy of Rafa Benitez? Was it the off the field distractions of an awkward takeover and buyout? Or was it the players? However, two players seemed immune from criticism - Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres. They both maintained talisman status. Building blocks upon which to base a recovery to former heights.

The biggest surprise of this turn of events is the timing. Earlier in the season the Spanish striker was clearly struggling for form and fitness, and appearing not to be enjoying his football as he once had. Playing in a team struggling to live up to expectations it may have been understandable if he had expressed a desire to move to greener pastures. However, all the indications were that he remained committed to the cause and loyal to the fans who adored him from the Kop.

Since the return of King Kenny, Liverpool have started to put together a run of results that pushes the club closer to more traditional heights within the Premier League. With Chelsea only nine points ahead, and themselves struggling to reproduce their early season form, a challenge for a Champions League spot that had looked unlikely now appears a possibility. More importantly, Torres is starting to look more like his former self, scoring goals and playing with more support. Not only that, but earlier in the day Liverpool announced the signing of an exciting strike partner, Luis Suarez. So why now?

Only those close to the club and to the player himself will have any inkling of the answer to that question. A more pressing question for Liverpool and their fans to face up to is whether or not they want to keep a player who has publicly stated that he no longer wishes to play for the club.

Judging from the earliest reactions on fan forums, opinion is more divided than the contents of a bent MP's shredder. That is to be expected. The break up of any love affair is an emotional matter. Conflicting thoughts pull in many directions. It is not easy to give up on someone you love. Nor is it easy to hold back anger at someone who has hurt you. So let us look at the cold, hard facts.

An unhappy Fernando Torres actually is not all that good. When circumstances are not 100% right the player struggles to perform anywhere near the levels that he is capable of. Look at how ineffective he was at the World Cup and in the first half of the season. Whether it is injury, unfamiliar playing styles or club unrest, Torres shows no signs of being a player that can deal with distractions and still turn it on week in, week out. That has to be a cause for concern.

There is also the reaction of his fellow players to consider. Realistically, most of them wont be bothered. They know the game. However, what of those that live and breath Liverpool? They could be another matter. It is hard to imagine Steven Gerrard or Jamie Carragher being as unemotional or unaffected by it as those who are just passing through. Perhaps Liverpool really would be better off without a player who is not committed to the club, even if that player is Fernando Torres.

On the other side of the coin, what message would it send out if Liverpool let him go? Would it send out signals to other potential transfer targets that Liverpool is not an ambitious club? Would it show that Liverpool is no longer a club that can attract and keep world class players? Perhaps that would be taking things too far, but it remains a risk.

And what of contracts? What of the recurring issue of players failing to recognise that putting pen to paper actually means something? More than one fan in the forums has presented the 'let him rot in the reserves' argument. For those of us who can only dream of the financial rewards offered to these players by their lucrative contracts, there will always be a part of us that understands that emotion when a player wishes to tear up the contract that has helped make him rich.

In the real world however, ideals and acts of principle are luxuries that the quest for instant success cannot afford. Liverpool is a great football club and is bigger than any one player. The reality is that an increased offer for Torres could prove to be very good business for Liverpool. A multiple million pound sale may not look so bad for a player who has scored less premiership goals than Kevin Nolan of Newcastle, the same as Elmander of Bolton, and only one more than Campbell of Blackpool, Dempsey of Fulham or Odemwingie of West Brom. The total value of all of those players combined is probably less than Liverpool would recoup in any sale of Torres.

Ultimately, the main reason that Liverpool will be better off without an unhappy Torres is that they are in a fight. They need players with the heart to prove that Liverpool deserve to be in the upper echelons of the league. History and reputation count for nothing - and that applies to players too. Liverpool have a battle on their hands and they need players who are up to the task. As unthinkable as it may have been, the time has come to let go. Fernando Torres wishes to try out new pastures. Let him try. He may find out that those new pastures are not as green, or as blue, as he hoped.

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